The Nigerian military remains on course to defeat the radical Islamic group Boko Haram by Abuja’s self-imposed deadline of the end of the December, President Muhammadu Buhari’s official spokesman told Newsweek on Thursday, despite apparent dissent by a senior military official.
“Twenty-four hours ago, the head of the Nigerian Army, General Buratai, reaffirmed the commitment of the government to achieving the deadline,” Shehu says by phone from the Nigerian capital, in reference to a speech Buratai gave in Borno on Wednesday. “That is the official government position.”
Shehu’s comments come after Air Commodore Yusuf Anas of the Abuja-based Center for Crisis Communication, cited as a Nigerian government spokesman by the Associated Press, said that the Nigerian military would not be able to meet the December deadline.
Anas broke with the government’s stance on the fight against Boko Haram, warning that the deadline “may be unrealistic” and saying Nigerians should not regard December as a “sacrosanct date when all suicide bombings will end.”
Anas told the AP: “The timeline on when to stop the insurgents from activating sleeper cells and detonating bombs into soft targets in any part of the country, especially in the frontline states, is therefore not tenable.”
But Shehu says Anas does not represent the government and can’t speak to its policies regarding the fight against Boko Haram.
“Air Commodore Anas does not work for the Nigerian government, the center which he said that from does not speak for the Nigerian government, but he is entitled to his own opinion on the matter,” Shehu adds.
In contrast with Anas’ opinion of what would constitute a defeat of the militant group by December, Shehu says the government’s definition of victory does not include stopping the group’s deadly suicide bombings across the country’s northern regions.
“[The group’s defeat] will mean that they will no longer hold any territory claiming to be their own,” Shehu says. “They will no longer be able to launch the kind of attacks that would allow them to seize land.”
But, he warns, “to say that there would be no more terror activities, it’s like promising a given society that there would be no more crime. It doesn’t happen anywhere.”
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